A year ago, Derrick Eidam could not have envisioned the following scenario: Running through the woods of eastern Dutchess County at night, illuminated only by a headlamp, surrounded by coyotes howling and owls hooting, with one of those screeching owls dive-bombing out of a tree cavity right toward his head.
This might sound like a bizarre dream, right? Ah, but this is 2020, and if any of us could have imagined where we would be today on this date in 2019, we’d scratch our heads in wonder and disbelief.
Running has been an anchor for Eidam in 2020, a year that unhinged so many of us. He has logged more miles than ever, completing his first marathon on Father’s Day. Last month at the Pawling Trail Running Festival, he covered 70.56 miles in a 24-hour race, placing second overall and discovering a few new affinities — trail running, and the peacefulness of running alone through the night. Most importantly, it helped solidify what he has come to discover during the past several months.
“Running and training for races has helped provide structure in a year that has been so chaotic and anxiety riddled,” the Highland resident said. “I can’t imagine my life this year without it.”
Steven Estremera of Conquer The World racing held fast to the idea of holding the ultra he started planning right around the New Year, before the pandemic consumed our lives. He was able to have a scaled-back version of the fixed-time ultramarathon, where runners and walkers covered the same 1.8-mile trail course as many times over the course of 6 hours, 12 hours or 24 hours.
Eidam joined a small group of local runners who decided to commit to doing the race, back in early July.
“At the time,” he said, “I wasn’t really thinking about attending the event, largely because I didn’t run hills or trails all that often. We did a total of three laps around the lake that day, and I found the course challenging and intriguing. I knew I needed to put some serious work in on trails and hills, so that’s what I did two months out. After a little bit of training, I thought I would join the 6- or 12-hour option, but instead opted to go ‘all in’ on the full 24.”
Fresh off his first marathon in June, Eidam set a goal of 50 miles in 24 hours. It seemed reasonable and doable to him, especially with the idea that he might sleep during the nighttime portion of the 24-hour event. He decided he’d better get acclimated to trails and hills.
Living in Highland, there is no lack of either terrain, between the local roads and places like Franny Reese State Park and Illinois Mountain. “Once I got more acclimated to this terrain, I began to increase the distance,” he said. “A few weeks out from the race, I purchased a Mohonk Preserve pass and got up to 20-mile days running the carriage roads every weekend. It was easily the most fun training for a race in my short time with running.”
Going into the race, Eidam admitted to having a lot of pre-race nerves, mostly because the longest he had ever run was about five hours and he had to figure out how he would keep moving for nearly five times that amount of time.
“Thankfully, my wife prepared food and supplies the night before, and I felt pretty strong after a good week of rest leading up to the event,” he said. “The daytime temperature was ideal, and those first few hours just flew by. Before I knew it, eight hours had already passed.
“The real adversity didn’t kick in until after that, where a combination of the night, cold temperatures, and stomach issues nearly made me quit,” he added. “I somehow was able to keep pushing forward though until the end. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought I would come in second overall and be the first overall male with 70 total miles!”
Wildlife encounters aside, Eidam said the nighttime was his favorite part of the race. He had never run with a headlamp before, and he was thankful to bring a spare one as one of them conked out mid-lap in the woods. He described running with a headlamp in the darkened woods as “peaceful and serene” — two words we don’t often associate with this year.
The nighttime did provide challenges, though. The temperature dropped precipitously overnight, and Eidam was not prepared for that level of cold. His tent was not rated for cold weather — he referred to it as “nothing more than a beach cabana” — and it was covered in frost from the mid-30s temperatures at Lakeside Park.
Eidam did not sleep at all during the 24 hours and said his biggest challenges were dietary.
“Keeping my stomach filled was the hardest part,” he said. “I felt physically capable of running for a long time, but eating was very difficult. I’ve always had issues with eating after a long run, so I was really only able to nibble a few things at each break I would take. That led to some very painful stomach pain that nearly ended the race for me.”
All the pain, sleep deprivation and overnight shivering paid off when Eidam crossed the line on his final lap, exceeding his pre-race expectations by more than 20 miles. “I would have never thought in my lifetime that I would perform so well,” he said, adding that the race awards are displayed prominently in his home.
After a recovery that consisted of no running for two weeks, Eidam has embarked on an October step challenge and a quick turnaround to his next ultra race, the Fall Back Into the Trails 50km (31 miles) on Nov. 1, another Conquer The World event, held at Red Wing Recreation Area in LaGrangeville. After that, he said he looks forward to taking some time off for the holidays — and reflecting back on his remarkable year of running in 2020.
Mid-Hudson Road Runners Club member Pete Colaizzo, the track coach at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, writes on running every week in Players. He can be reached at email@example.com. For more club information, go to www.mhrrc.org